The Zoo Choo train atop Mill Mountain is an iconic part of the Zoo’s history. First debuting in 1952, the G-16 miniature train, gives children and adults alike, a ride around the zoo on its 1010-foot-long track. The ride laps around the zoo twice and allows visitors a unique behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibits and 360-degree views of the Roanoke Valley.
Although the Zoo is a participant in many national and international wildlife conservation efforts, conducts research onsite, has many innovative educational programs, camps, and events, and exhibits native and exotic animal exhibits, for many visitors, the train is an integral part of their childhood memories and Zoo experience.
“While the care of endangered, threatened, and non-releasable animals, as well as our educational programming, remains our top priorities at the Zoo, we could no longer ignore the demand by visitors wanting to ride on the beloved Zoo Choo,” said Niki Voudren, Mill Mountain Zoo’s Executive Director. “By bringing the Zoo Choo back into operation, we are able to provide visitors a more robust experience as passengers get to see parts of the Zoo not visible from walking paths.” We are immensely grateful to The Louis Lester Foundation, Gentry Locke Attorneys, Woods Heating and Air, Kinsey Sign Company, and so many members of this community for contributing to the refurbishment of the Zoo Choo. Their support will make the Zoo Choo available to the 70,000 visitors we anticipate this year. We are hopeful that the additional revenue the Zoo Choo will yield will ensure our ability to grow and continue to deliver our mission year-round.
Repairs made to the train include a complete restoration of the locomotive and two passenger cars (paint, plastics, graphics), replacement of the gas engine with a diesel engine, replacement of the hydraulic drive and brake control systems, and an update of the electrical system.
In addition to the Zoo Choo itself, the tracks were regauged throughout the park, a new sunshade was installed at the station platform for visitor comfort, and new LED lights were installed in the train tunnel. Near future goals for the Zoo Choo experience include murals to the train tunnel, as well as adding activities at the train depot.
“Seeing the joy on the faces of our visitors when they ride the beloved Zoo Choo was our motivation to renew the Zoo Choo. We can’t wait to hear the train bell ring again here on the mountaintop,” said Voudren.
The Mill Mountain Zoo’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and public launch of Mill Mountain Zoo’s renovated Zoo’s “Zoo Choo” will take place on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, at 10:00 am. Train rides and interviews will take place following the ceremony.